The Top Two Welding Excellence Obstacles in US Manufacturing

Does your company want the profitability and competitive advantage of welding excellence?  What’s standing in the way?  Two years ago I started a survey poll asking manufacturing welding engineers “what do you think are the Top 2 biggest obstacles to welding excellence in American manufacturing, in the facilities you are personally familiar with?”

Many welding engineers responded, and here were the top answers as of April 4, 2012:

 20%     Staff don’t support weld requirements, and force upstream problems on welding.

20%     Poor welding process knowledge in the design team.

15%     Unqualified people dictate process without honoring Welding Engineering expertise.

14%     Manufacturing welded assemblies with NO degreed welding engineer.

7%       Welding Engineers lack time/support to find and justify the best solutions.

5%       The Manufacturer is too intently managing the economic death of the plant to invest and save it.

 (In general, most WE’s picked at least one of the top two answers, then their second pick ranged among the other choices. The other answers received only one or two votes. You can see them in the poll.)

It follows logically from this survey that if you want to remove obstacles and create welding excellence in your company, that those issues must be addressed.

Additional “gold” came in the comments responding to the poll, which I’ve added below. A key point for me is that because welding is the most complex process, it requires core expertise that can reach to the upper echelons of the company: the need is just as valid as for Tool and Die, or Quality, or OP Ex, or for Information Technology.  Even Six Sigma Blackbelts fall flat on their DMAIC’s when it’s a welding process project, yet when a Smart Welding Engineer is unleashed… the problem is quickly resolved.

The Title and corresponding role of “Welding Engineer” is far too limited in most company structures to enable excellence in welding processes. How many companies have a Director of Welding Technologies, or a Manufacturing Welding Engineering Manager? Very few. They are just as rare as the highly profitable welding operations they could produce.

Poll Comments:

 Brian,
Thank you for posting this pole. Our profession needs this visibility. The present economy and American corporate philosophy make it nearly impossible to succeed. In the eyes of managers, no matter what the problem, welding is the cause. The result is that in order to solve the problems that show up in welding, the Welding Engineer needs to take on the role of a Manufacturing Engineer, Mechanical Engineer and Production Supervisor and solve problems in other areas of the manufacturing process. This removes the Welding Engineer from the very job he/she is there for. The result, welding process is not perfected. It is getting worse, not better. Management needs to solve the underlying problems and let the Welding Engineer do what he/she is best at. Any comments?

            Keith

Keith,
You’re welcome. Thank you for voting, and please pass along a link to all the W.E.’s you know. I think one thing you’ve touched on is the realistic need for the “big 3″ schools to prepare W.E.’s/M.J.E.’s to assist throughout the manufacturing process. I haven’t written an article on this subject yet, but there’s a tricky balance there that is rarely explained and never covered well. Here’s the issue in a nutshell: because the welding process is the most complex, with the most variables, only the W.E. can effectively sort through the potential process improvements and assemble a planned combination to achieve stable quality in the welding assembly process in a cost-effective way. This means a couple of things: doing what can/should be done to better optimize & control the welding process, and pointing out what can/should reasonably be done in upstream processes to stabilize the welding (i.e., keep the weld joints from moving and stabilize/control fit-up gap variations). It doesn’t mean that the W.E. should do all things bending and stamping, but that he is the hub.

You’re exactly right on the visibility – I think most of us have struggled as greatly with the invisibility of the critical roles we play, as with the invisibility of the welding process variables we work with. The blind ignorance we’re surrounded with can feel painful at times, and a big part of my desire with this blog is to help lessen this pain for other W.E.’s.
So my plan is that after we get some visible volume to the poll, I want to do an article to discuss the results, and highlight it in various forums and LinkedIn groups to stir interest.

Brian

Brian,

I find that even introducing the idea of a process change is astonishingly difficult. At the higher levels of management in a company, process change is viewed as a job for some underling, when mgt is the only one who can make and enforce the change. Welding productivity is at least 50% a management problem because they don’t have the will to make the changes. Much of this probably stems from lack of a trusted WE on staff who can verify and be in charge of evaluating proposals from consultants.

Fred

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2 Responses to The Top Two Welding Excellence Obstacles in US Manufacturing

  1. Bryant Reed says:

    In my experience (52 years!), too many in management, and that includes WE’s, confuse COST with PRICE when looking at suppliers. Our welding manufacturing, especially filler metal, is being driven offshore at an alarming rate. When a cost analysys is done, wire represents a very small part of the total cost. Yet, buyers buy Chinese wire because it is “cheaper”, even though the coating method results in feeding problems due to flaking. I have even seen companies welding to ASME codes buying “cheap” wire, even though they had to replace a liner with EVERY spool.

    Contact tips is another pet peeve. Companies buy expensive GMAW sets (not enough), and shop for a penny cheaper contact tip! Short-lived tips add dollars to COST to save pennies! I have had customers tell me a bad tip adds at least $5 to their daily costs. Some, not all, will evaluate contact tips on COST not PRICE. But only when led to it. Many shops issue ONE tip at a time, and make the welder turn in a worn one to get a replacement. The COST of a welder walking to the tool room is many times more than the cost of a BAG of tips!

    Most distributors tell me they are lucky to make 10% gross profit on welding machines, even when it takes at least 25% to put net profits to the bottom line. This drives the high quality salesmen to seek other lines of work, because the profits are not there to pay for the SERVICE they want to provide.

    It is COST that matters, NOT PRICE!

  2. Brian Dobben says:

    Bryant, you are right and your long experience shines brightly. I’ll take that one step further and say that all the symptoms you describe go back to one root-cause problem: widespread lack of understanding that welding is THE MOST COMPLEX MANUFACTURING PROCESS, involving more complex sciences and more interactive variables than any other process.

    And that sparked a new post: https://weldsparks.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/manufacturing-executives-what-is-your-most-complex-process/

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